For the second time in three years the Authority redesigned their website, which will result in breaking thousands of links in the process when the old site is shut off May 28, 2013.
On May 16 the Authority sent a notice that the current website would be replaced by a redesigned one with a new address: www.hsr.ca.gov. This change occurred on May 18 as scheduled, and the problems are just beginning to be surface.
In its announcement, the Authority explains that “the new website is designed to improve user experience, foster transparency and provide the Authority with an online presence consistent with other State of California agencies. The new website will preserve and contain all the same documents and records as the old website.”
The documents might be on the new website, but since the URL has changed from www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov to www.sr.ca.gov, every existing link you have will be rendered useless. You will have to search for the documents on the new website. The old site wasn’t easy to search but the new site appears difficult as well, it doesn’t bring forward the same number of hits that the old one did. HSRA offered assistance in finding documents but its unknown if the response will be instantaneous or will take days. And then there are possible legal implications…
Legal Hot Water
There are current law suits and other legal actions have hundreds of pieces of evidence that are in briefs and declarations. The Authority was notified by several members of the public and legal community not to do switch without what’s called a 301 redirect. This means instead of getting a message that this link can’t be found, you are automatically redirected to the new link.
There is a statute that deals with the destruction of evidence in court cases called spoliation of evidence as a misdemeanor, which addresses the knowing and intentional destruction or concealment of evidence that could be a felony. See more: http://california-discovery-law.com/spoliation.pdf
Attorney Stuart Flashman, one of the attorneys representing the Prop1A lawsuit going to court on May 31, sent a warning letter to the High-Speed Rail Authority on May 15th in which he pinpointed a verdict about the use of internet links and evidence in court cases.
“[The court] decided that a comment letter or other communication which cited a specific URL for a document available on the internet sufficed to place the document in the administrative record and make it available both to the agency and in any subsequent court proceeding. Consequently, such citations to a specific webpage URL place the page or document in the record as evidence.”
“I would strongly suggest that the Authority give serious consideration to either providing redirection for all current links to documents on its website prior to shifting to its new website, or, alternatively, continuing to maintain the existing website until arrangements can be made for link redirection. It would be highly embarrassing for the Authority to have to explain to a court or to the STB why its destruction of links to evidence in cases before those bodies was not improper”
And the kicker is the Authority notified Rita Wespi of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) that they will need three days to have the new website fully functional after they shut down the old website on the 28th. The CARRD organization was confused by this. The new site is supposed to be operational right now.
The Authority also refused to have technical experts available to CARRD talk to their technical experts. They said it wasn’t necessary. In any event, the HSRA is taking down the old website permanently as of Tuesday and it will take *72 hours* before it will function properly, according to their communications director, Lisa Marie Alley. Those three days just happen to be the last days before the Prop 1A trial begins on May 31st..
Ground Hog Day- links destroyed beforeThe Authority changed their website about 3 years ago and it was a difficult situation. October 17, 2010, Rita Wespi from Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) wrote to the Communications Director, “As you’re well aware by now, the redesign of the CHSRA’s website has broken ALL incoming links to the website. I’ve brought this to the authority’s attention (as have many other people) but I haven’t heard back on what plans – if any – there are to fix the problem. Do you know?” Nothing was ever done to correct the problem.
So once again, all state agencies, private or public websites, those for or against the project, thousands of articles that used internal links to the Rail Authority’s site will be useless. With the new change, governmental agencies work product such as the Legislative Analyst Office, State Auditor’s office, General Accounting Office, and the Peer Review Group will have non-working links. This makes it very hard for the public to review information and you can be pretty much assured except for the most diligent, they won’t hunt for the new link to get to the information promised. Bottom line, transparency suffers and is not increased.
In addition to the 2010 website problems, there was a disappearance of documents in 2007 just before the vote that authorized the high-speed rail project. October 25, 2008, Joe Vranich, former CEO of High-Speed Rail Association, was a witness before a Senate Transportation Committee days before Prop1A was put on a ballot and passed. While he favored most high-speed rail projects, he couldn’t endorse this one. At mm 8:26 he says, “Some documents on the Authority’s website disappeared in 2007.  What circumstances justify the Authority having less information available during the very year when more information should be available to the voters?”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SS0RD6dqpKY&list=UULpiKaBjaacPw7g5K1nkRXw&index=280 (10 minutes of astounding testimony that provided a premonition of the future of the project)
The site does not appear to be an improvement in the test comparisons (see the next article) on many searches. The public does not seem served by these changes. But more importantly, time will tell if the Authority will heed attorney warnings not to destroy links and to keep the old site up until they can figure out the redirect links on sensitive court documents. As of this writing they still intend to shut down the old site, despite attorney warnings and it is unknown if they specifically addressed the links in the Prop 1A (Tos, Fukuda, County of Kings lawsuit) and/or perhaps links other pending legal actions.
What assurances does the public have that everything that is currently on the Authority’s website will be transferred to the new website?
Bottom line, will the Authority have the chutzpah to risk court action against them since they were warned not to shut down links that lead to evidence for upcoming court cases?
In the weeds: See examples of how the new site and old site compare.